The Santa Fe City Council this week voted 8-1 to strike a rule requiring that the police chief or a chosen replacement be at all in-person council meetings to provide protection.

Under the change, an officer will only be required to attend when the council deems it necessary.

Councilor Renee Villarreal sponsored the change alongside Councilor Michael Garcia. Villarreal said the change was proposed to avoid setting a precedent and to match the council rules to how meetings have run in the past.

Despite the previous council rules stating otherwise, Villarreal said officers have not regularly attended meetings in the past.

“Having somebody, a sergeant-at-arms, in there with a gun be present, I think that can be intimidating for some people,” Villarreal said. “In some of the cases, you may say it feels safe to you, but for others it may not. I don’t think we should assume having someone with a gun who is supposed to protect us in the room feels comfortable for the public.”

Garcia said the change still allows for police presence when needed.

Councilor Jamie Cassutt, who cast the lone vote against the change, said she didn’t believe anyone who intended to cause a scene at a meeting would give the city ample notice to determine whether to call an officer to attend.

“I guess it’s that philosophy of prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.

With a large number of vacancies in the Santa Fe Police Department, Councilor Chris Rivera said he didn’t like the idea of taking an officer off the streets to attend meetings.

Still, he said the council should discuss how to address security matters for when it returns to in-person meetings.

Councilor Signe Lindell, whose third term in office began in December, recalled a council meeting where a man sat next to her with a handgun visible.

She called the experience “horrifying.”

“I never want to go through that again,” Lindell said. “So many things about that were uncomfortable. I’m not sure having a single policeman in that chamber would have made any difference that evening.”

The amendment was one of a long list of procedural changes and updates approved by the City Council this week during a lengthy meeting. The changes, according to Councilors Cassutt and Carol Romero-Wirth, are intended to streamline City Council meetings and better use the committee process to craft legislation.

“There were a few pieces that we were trying to balance,” Cassutt said. “We know sometimes our meetings can go very long with the governing board, and sometimes we are working through a lot of details in the governing board that we thought should really be looked at at the committee level because it provides a lot more time for us to see how changes to legislation will actually impact it.”

Among the most notable changes:

  • Legislation must be fully crafted and signed before being introduced.
  • Legislation must be approved by at least one committee to reach the City Council. Once approved by one committee, the legislation is scheduled for a public hearing. If legislation is approved by all committees, the legislation is put on the consent agenda.
  • A councilor must sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation at least 72 hours prior to when a resolution will be heard in a public hearing.
  • If a bill receives five no votes during a committee meeting, the bill can not move forward to the City Council. Currently, a bill can still progress to the council, despite a unanimous no vote.
  • Amendments approved during the committee process must be attached to the main legislation as approved.

(7) comments

Stefanie Beninato

I remember the man who used to show up armed at city council meetings. I was standing right behind him when I realized he had a gun. My initial reaction was that if I dropped to the floor maybe any bullets would go over me :-). Right now the state legislature has banned all weapons from the roundhouse. Maybe the city should do the same.

Khal Spencer

Stefanie, it would be even better if people would not behave like jerks. Oh, well, that's asking a lot these days, amiright?

Dan Frazier

I think some security would be a good idea. If a police officer is not available, maybe a dog-catcher could be called upon to attend? Or a life guard? Or a snow-plow driver? The dog catcher could bring an aggressive dog in case there are problems. The lifeguard could bring a bucket of water in case someone needs to be drowned. The snow-plow driver could bring a pile of snow-balls, just in case...

Khal Spencer

Or a front end loader with a couple tons of sand.

Khal Spencer

Regarding Sig's comment. I recall from this newspaper that a few years back, there was a guy who would show up open carrying and acting belligerent. I understand how that can be harrowing. I experienced that behavior one year at the annual motorcyclist rally at the Roundhouse and a lot of us were on edge. Cooler heads quickly calmed the gentleman down. Plus, he would have been outgunned...

That's different than a LEO showing up. Or, for that matter, someone concealed carrying with a permit and no one even knows there is a gun around.

Prancing around a municipal meeting open-carrying in a way designed to freak people out is not supporting the 2A, the NM Constitution's language on the RKBA (Art. II, sec. 6), or proper civil discourse.

Let's all play nice in the sandbox.

Khal Spencer

If Santa Fe can't be comfortable with its own police officers in the room, something is wrong with Santa Fe.

Chris Mechels

All the Council members should go armed. There, problem solved....

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